Drought declared a natural disaster, but Nebraska farmers are getting help

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Nebraska is currently dealing with a drought so severe that it’s now being declared a natural disaster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared 13 counties as primary disaster areas.

The good news is that many farmers and ranchers in those counties — and the 36 surrounding them — could be eligible for government assistance.

The affected counties include Lancaster, Seward, Saline, York and Gage.

Usda Drought Graph

Courtesy USDA

If you’re a resident of one of the counties and have endured damage due to the drought, you can apply for emergency loan assistance from the Farm Service Agency.

Austin Harthoorn, an economist with the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said this will help farmers and ranchers adapt to the harsh weather.

“Especially with the cost of planting, the cost of seed, the cost of fertilizer, to get started here in the growing season, that money can be crucial,” he said.

Harthoorn said that last year, there was a decrease in farmer’s yields because of droughts. When that happens, it ultimately affects both the money they make and our local food supply.

But he said there are ways to prepare for a harsher climate.

Harthoorn said farmers might decide to plant different crops or irrigate sooner than usual.

“I think no matter what, farmers are gonna plant,” he said. “That’s what they do.”

One risk that farmers are facing with the drought is wildfire.

Fire Chief Tim Norris with the Bennet Fire & Rescue says farmers are already hurting, and a wildfire could just make things worse.

“It’s definitely dry, and it wouldn’t take much to make something happen,” he said. “From lightning to a cigarette, or a piece of machinery setting off a spark, or a mower. Even this time of year, burn barrels that aren’t covered let something go and it gets in that grass. You’d be surprised how dry even some of this green grass is. It’ll burn.”

SEE ALSO: Dry weather causing ‘significant’ wildfires in Nebraska

He said until we get some longer, gentle rain that really soaks into the soil, we’ll likely be seeing these dry conditions for a while.

In a statement, Sen. Pete Ricketts welcomed the USDA’s disaster declaration and encouraged any farm operations that are struggling with the drought conditions to apply for assistance.

“Food security is national security, and it is essential we support our farmers and ranchers during tough seasons to ensure the continued production of our food supply,” he said.

Ricketts is also asking any farmers who are struggling to reach out to his office for help.

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